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Richard Peabody has a simple answer to the question of why he decided to edit an anthology series of female D.C. writers, despite being a guy: He thought of it first.
“I saw a need, and I know how to make a book,” says Peabody, who in 1976 founded Gargoyle, a national fiction and poetry magazine based in his hometown of Arlington. “I thought if what’s holding something like this up is the fact that no one knows how to do it, then I’ll do it.” The latest collection, Electric Grace, is published by Gargoyle’s book imprint, Paycock Press, following 2004’s Grace and Gravity and last year’s Enhanced Gravity. Contributors to the new book include established, award-winning authors such as Jessica Neely and Joanne Leedom-Ackerman as well as never-before-published newbies. Peabody made the selections but says the criteria for being included—other than being a woman living in the D.C. area—were flexible. “I’ve given them complete freedom to do anything they wanted,” says Peabody, 56. “The story that everyone hates, that no one will ever publish, that you love—that’s the one that I want,” he adds. “As long as it’s something edgy, something that would stick in the grid.”
Faye Moskowitz, an English professor at George Washington University whose “Completo: A Triptych,” a short story about a couple’s Italian trip, is included in Electric Grace, says that while there’s an established writing scene in D.C., anthologies such as Peabody’s, and the subsequent promotions for them, “are helpful in meeting people and cementing a community.”
“I’ve had a lot of help in my own writing life from a lot of women, and I’ve tried to give back,” she says. “In women’s writing groups, I’ve noticed a great deal of nurturing and sharing information in a most productive, positive way.”
Peabody says his rationale for the series, however, is somewhat selfish. “I know what a guy’s story is going to be,” he says. “I’ve read so many manuscripts and so much fiction, and it’s really hard for a guy to surprise me. On the other hand, I have two daughters and a wife, and women are always a mystery to me. So everything I read from these writers, it’s like a discovery.”
Before launching the series, Peabody worked on several projects with a feminine bent, including a book about Barbie dolls and a compilation of writing by female Beat writers. From there, he began to think about getting involved with writers closer to home. Once he put out feelers for submissions, Peabody, an adjunct fiction-writing professor at Johns Hopkins University, says the quantity and quality of the submitted work was surprising. “When I began, I was just hoping to have enough submissions to do one anthology,” he says. “Now we’ve done three, and I already have the material for another next year.”
In 2008, Peabody will also give the XY’s their turn: He plans to publish a compilation of work from local male writers, Stress City: A Big Book of Fiction by 50 DC Area Guys. “I think what happened,” says Peabody, “was that [the men] were all mad at me. So I had to give them a shot.”
Contributors to Electric Grace read Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m. at Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, free; (202) 364-1919.